Dehydration in Newborns and Infants

Signs, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Mother holding her hand to the forehead of her crying baby girl

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In This Article

Dehydration is a condition where there are not enough fluids in the body. Your baby's body is made up of approximately 75% water. Each day, your child loses fluids through urination, bowel movements, sweating, crying, and even breathing. You replace these fluids each time you feed your child.

But, if your baby loses more fluids than they take in, it can lead to dehydration. Here are the symptoms, causes, and treatment of dehydration in newborns and infants along with tips for prevention.

Symptoms

Babies can become dehydrated quickly. For this reason, it's important to be watchful for signs of dehydration in your newborn.

Signs of Dehydration

The signs of dehydration in babies to be aware of are:

  • Concentrated urine that looks very dark yellow or orange
  • Dry lips
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Less than six wet diapers in a 24 hour period
  • No interest in taking the bottle or breastfeeding
  • No tears when your baby is crying
  • Sunken fontanelle (soft spot) on your baby's head

Causes

Dehydration in newborns and young infants is usually the result of not taking in enough fluids to replace what is lost in the course of the day. Older infants and children are more likely to become dehydrated from an illness. Here are some of the things that can lead to dehydration.

  • Breast-feeding issues: A breastfed newborn can become dehydrated if he's not latching on correctly, not breastfeeding often enough, not breastfeeding long enough at each feeding or there's an issue with the supply of breast milk.
  • Bottle-feeding issues: Bottle-fed babies may become dehydrated if they're not taking a bottle often enough or he's not taking enough infant formula or pumped breast milk at each feeding.
  • Refusing to eat: Babies may refuse the breast or the bottle if they are in pain or not feeling well. A stuffy nose, earache, or a sore throat can interfere with sucking and swallowing.
  • Fever: A rise in your child's body temperature can cause a greater loss of fluids. Plus, babies may not take feedings as well when they have a fever.
  • Diarrhea: If your child develops diarrhea, the loss of fluids through the bowels can be dangerous.
  • Vomiting: When babies aren't able to keep down most of their feedings, they're losing important fluids that their body needs. Repeated vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration.
  • Overexposure to heat: High temperatures, extreme humidity, or spending too much time outdoors in the hot sun can cause sweating and the evaporation of fluids through your baby's skin.

Treatment

If your baby is showing signs of dehydration, you should call the doctor or go to the emergency room. The treatment for infant dehydration depends on the cause and severity of the condition.

At Home

If the symptoms are mild, your doctor may tell you to begin treating your child at home and continue to carefully monitor the symptoms. You should:

  • Offer a bottle or breastfeed frequently especially if the baby isn't taking in too much at each feeding.
  • Keep track of your baby's feedings and wet diapers.
  • Move to a cool place and remove excessive clothing or blankets from your child, if it is very warm and your baby is overheating,
  • Follow the doctor's instructions if they tell you to give your baby an oral rehydration fluid such as Pedialyte. However, you should not give your baby Pedialyte, water, or any medication for illness, vomiting, or diarrhea without talking to the doctor first.

At the Doctor's Office

If your baby is a newborn or a young infant, your doctor will want to see the baby for a check-up.

  • The doctor may tell you to feed your child more often or give them more at each feeding.
  • If you're breastfeeding, the doctor may want to check your baby's latch and breastfeeding technique.
  • If you're breastfeeding and your baby isn't getting enough breast milk, you may have to supplement your baby with infant formula.
  • The doctor may instruct you to give your baby an oral rehydration fluid such as Pedialyte.
  • The doctor will also examine your child's health. If the baby has an infection, the doctor may prescribe medicine to treat the illness.
  • The doctor will want to monitor the baby closely.

At the Hospital

If the dehydration becomes severe, your child may need to go to the hospital. At the hospital the doctor can:

  • Monitor your baby's intake and output of fluids
  • Give the baby IV fluids to replace what's being lost especially if the baby is not eating well or has severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • Give your child medicine to treat any illness or underlying cause

Tips for Prevention

The best way to prevent dehydration is to not only know the signs and understand the causes, but also know how to keep it from happening. Here are some tips to help keep your baby from getting dehydrated.

Feed Your Newborn

If you're bottle-feeding, offer one to three ounces of infant formula or pumped breast milk in a bottle every two to three hours.

If you're breastfeeding, put your newborn to your breast at least every two to three hours around the clock.

Make Sure Your Baby Is Getting Enough

Keep track of the number of wet diapers your baby is having each day and see your baby's doctor for regular well-baby checkups to monitor healthy weight gain.

Wake a Sleeping Baby

Wake sleepy newborns up to breastfeed or to take their bottle if it's been more than three hours. As the weeks go on and your baby begins to take more at each feeding, they may be able to sleep longer between feedings.

Stay Out of Extreme Heat

Try not to take your newborn or young infant outdoors if it's very hot or humid. If you need to be outside, keep your baby in the shade and as cool as possible. Babies can also overheat inside in a hot, stuffy room, or if they're all bundled up. Try to keep your baby comfortable and breastfeed or offer a bottle very often to replace the fluids that he's losing.

Avoid Giving Water

You don't have to give your baby a bottle of water between feedings to try to prevent dehydration. Water fills the baby up and doesn't provide any nutrients. Both breast milk and infant formula provide your baby with fluid plus nutrition.

If it's a very hot day or you think your baby needs extra water, you can give them an extra bottle or breastfeed them more.

Prevent the Spread of Germs

Wash your hands often especially before preparing your child's bottle and after changing diapers or using the bathroom. You can also remind family members and friends to wash their hands and ask them not to visit your child if they are sick, especially when your child is a newborn and young infant.

Visit Your Baby's Doctor

Do not stop feeding your child to try to stop diarrhea or vomiting. Your baby needs extra fluids to replace what she's losing, so continue to breastfeed or bottle-feed as often as possible while your child is ill and undergoing treatment.

When to Call the Doctor

Severe dehydration can be a very dangerous and even life-threatening situation for your baby. Don't hesitate to contact your doctor if you are concerned.

Call the doctor if your child:

  • Is under three months old and has a fever
  • Is not breastfeeding or bottle feeding well
  • Has a sunken fontanelle
  • Is vomiting after two feedings in a row
  • Has diarrhea for more than eight hours
  • Shows any of the signs of dehydration listed above

A Word From Verywell

Babies lose body fluids during the day; but they get all the fluids they need to replace what's lost through their regular feedings. It's a natural balance. When there's a shift in that balance, a baby can become dehydrated.

By understanding dehydration, its causes, and it's warning signs, you can try to prevent it or at least catch it early. If you notice any of the signs of dehydration call your doctor immediately.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Signs of Dehydration in Infants & Children.

  2. Canavan A, Arant BS. Diagnosis and management of dehydration in children. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80(7):692-6.

  3. Colletti JE, Brown KM, Sharieff GQ, Barata IA, Ishimine P. The management of children with gastroenteritis and dehydration in the emergency department. J Emerg Med. 2010;38(5):686-98. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.06.015

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.